BALTIMORE >> As they stagger toward the midpoint of their miserable 2018 baseball season, the Orioles own the worst record in the majors and are on pace to lose 100 games for only the third time since their move to Baltimore in 1954.
Worst of all, they never saw it coming.
After giving free agent Alex Cobb a four-year, $57 million contract and signing veteran right-hander Andrew Cashner, the Orioles figured they had a solid starting rotation to go with a power-laden lineup — a formula designed to produce the team’s fourth postseason berth in seven years under manager Buck Showalter.
“We had really high hopes, as most teams do, especially in spring training,” slugger Mark Trumbo said. “Our offense was really firing, and we had both Cashner and Cobb coming into the fold to go with a similar group of guys from the last couple years.”
Nothing has gone according to plan. Entering Friday night’s game in Atlanta, the Orioles were 21-52 (10-29 on the road) and a whopping 29 ½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East. The last time a team has been at least 30 games behind at the end of June was 1979, when Toronto was looking way up at the Orioles.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” reliever Zach Britton said. “It’s tough. We thought we’d be fighting for a playoff spot, and we’re not even halfway through and we’re already close to being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
“I can’t remember being in this type of situation here, maybe my first year in 2011 when we were pretty bad from the get-go. But I don’t even think it was this bad, and this roster has a lot of talent on it.”
Injuries have been a factor. Trumbo and Britton began the season on the disabled list, third baseman Tim Beckham has been sidelined since April 24 and 2017 All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop missed three weeks with an oblique strain. Outfielder Colby Rasmus languished on the 60-day disabled list before hitting a home run Thursday in his first action since April 6.
But the core of the problem has been, quite simply, poor performances by the vast majority of the team — most notably two-time AL home run champion Chris Davis, who’s in the third season of a seven-year, $161 million contract.
Davis is batting .150 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 57 games. He is slated to return to the lineup on Friday night following a hiatus of nearly two weeks during which he worked to get his mojo back.
But Davis isn’t the only underachiever. Schoop has a .209 batting average, starting catcher Caleb Joseph is at .172, Trey Mancini is hitting at a .220 clip (down from .293 as a rookie last year) and the collective batting average of .227 is tied for last in the big leagues with Arizona. Baltimore has been blanked eight times, and no team in the majors has scored fewer runs.
“I can’t remember having a team with so many guys who haven’t swung the bats as they have in the past, or the way they are expected to produce over the course of a full season,” Showalter said.
The best hitters on the team are Manny Machado (.304, 18 HRs, 53 RBIs) and Adam Jones (.292, 10, 31), both of whom are in the final year of their contracts and likely to be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
It would take exceptional pitching to offset Baltimore’s meager offensive output, and that hasn’t happened. Cobb is 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA, Cashner is 2-8 and Gausman (3-6) has gone seven straight starts without a victory.
“I’ve never been a part of a team like this,” Gausman said. “Ever since I came up (in 2013), we’ve been a winning ball club and a contender. So, this is really weird.”
Seems as if there’s no option but to tear it down and start over, beginning with some heavy trading action before July 31.
“If you just run the same roster out there the whole year, you don’t do yourself any justice,” said the 30-year-old Britton, who’s in the final season of his contract and a likely trading chip. “It’s unfortunate for some of the guys who are going to be affected by it, but it’s the nature of the beast. When you don’t play well, people get replaced by younger players.”
Showalter and vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are also in the last year of their contracts, but situation likely won’t be addressed until the offseason.
Regardless, change is coming for a franchise still in search of its first World Series title since 1983.
“Sad to see it happen,” Gausman said. “Obviously, I would love for us all to stay here and ride off into the sunset together. But at this point, that’s kind of unrealistic.”